Thoughts: Game 31 – Fleury outlasts Pickard as Pens beat Avs 1-0 in OT

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Here’s a link to the Postgame Thoughts archive, in case you want to catch up on what you may have missed.

Pens 1  Avalanche 0

Record: 21-6-4

Goals
Comeau (11) from Malkin, Scuderi

Click here to read the goal assessments


Gm 31 - Goals

Penalties
Despres (interference) – Unnecessary (cross-checks McLeod in the back and knocks him over before the puck gets there for interference)
Downie (elbowing) – Unnecessary (charges and throws a higher hit on Landeskog after he plays the puck away against the boards; the penalty is called elbowing for the after-the-fact raised elbow, but a minor for charging would have fit better)
Farnham (fighting) – Inconsequential (drops the gloves with McLeod off of a faceoff midway through the 2nd period and they both receive majors)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 31 - Forwards

Evgeni Malkin – The year of Geno continues with a team-leading six shots (tied with 3 others), the primary assist on the only goal scored in the game, and a drawn penalty against the Avs. His turnover numbers are down (two lost pucks), he’s reading the play extremely well (3 takeaways, 1 pass interception, 1 forced turnover), and he is shifting seamlessly between wing and center when necessary now. Malkin might be the most dependable Penguin right now from shift to shift, which is something that even the staunchest Russian-hater would have a difficult time arguing with his current streak (six-game point streak with 3g, 5a).

Bryan Rust – Rust also added six shots on net and played a solid game, though I see a bit of a Napoleon complex in him at times. He definitely pushed the 4th line into having a productive game with his ability to skate with the puck and he has a very Comeau-ish attitude towards throwing the puck at the net at will. The one thing I would call him out on is his two lost pucks in the offensive zone, because both were instances where he had the puck and let go of it to throw a hit for the sake of gaining more space around him. Neither hit was successful and the Avs took rushes back the other way both times. If he avoids making those types of decisions and continues to throw the puck on net, it’s going to be very hard to send him back to the AHL.

Bryan Rust or Zach Sill? The decision seems very easy already. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bryan Rust or Zach Sill? The decision seems very easy already. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Nick Spaling – Spaling had a solid start to the season but his performances have tailed off recently and he definitely didn’t look comfortable around Crosby and Hornqvist against the Avs. Part of it was probably Crosby’s mediocre performance coming back from the mumps, but you have to wonder if it’s more valuable to throw a guy like Rust up to the top line just to see what would happen given his talent. Spaling wasn’t bad necessarily, but he was unproductive overall in a wing spot that should never be unproductive. With Kunitz coming back soon, it’ll be interesting to see where Spaling drops to in the lineup and if that boosts his play again.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 31 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – Six, yes, six shutouts for Fleury this season. He was largely untested in this game thanks to a great defensive effort, but as has been the case this season, Fleury came up big on the few high-percentage chances that he faced. The most notable set of saves that he made was against MacKinnon on top of the crease as MacKinnon blew past Martin to get a good chance in front, then got his own rebound for a second chance. Fleury was there for the first save and poked away the second chance to nullify Martin’s lost coverage though. Watching Fleury work calmly has been a gift this season.

Fleury didn't even need to see to be great. (Daniel Kubus/Getty Images)

Fleury didn’t even need to see to be great. (Daniel Kubus/Getty Images)

Kris Letang – Letang continued his emergence into the “two-way” defenseman category with three defensive zone takeaways to go with two pass interceptions, two forced turnovers, and two broken-up plays. While Paul Martin didn’t have the best game, Letang made up for it nicely, with the best example being when he switched sides with Martin to utilize his speed, then forced an Avalanche forward into the corner, and then proceeded to steal the puck from him. He added in four shots offensively, but Letang’s defensive game is certainly a joy to watch right now…which is a very odd thing for me to type.

Simon Despres – Despres was the biggest beneficiary of Ehrhoff’s injury (left after the first period) and he took advantage of his added minutes to look like a legitimate top-four defenseman. He managed four shots on net and has developed a knack for knowing when to pinch into the offensive zone, especially on the back-side of the play. He was solid in the defensive zone as well with a takeaway and two broken-up plays. The biggest knock on him was an unnecessary interference penalty as he still tends to take unnecessary penalties at a higher-than-normal rate, but everything else is trending up for Simon.

Misc. Thoughts

Being Responsible – It only took one period for me to decide on this first paragraph and it was due to great reads by Malkin, Goc, and Spaling. The entire group of forwards did a fantastic job of covering back for defensemen every time a defenseman would jump into the offensive zone. Malkin prevented a 2-on-1 breakout for the Avs just by taking two strides towards the neutral zone, which forced the Avs defenseman to hold the puck instead of trying to push a breakout pass for the odd-man break. Goc covered back for Despres and Letang multiple times throughout the game. Meanwhile, Spaling was the next man back for a 4-on-1 rush that the Avs didn’t even turn into a shot on net. The defensive reads and overall effort from the forwards was a thing of beauty against Colorado.

AHL Upgrades – I had my concerns with Farnham and Rust being called up, but both players have fit into the NHL roster beautifully so far. They have played well enough in their first three games that it’s worth considering who they may even replace on the NHL roster (Sill) when the team is healthy. Farnham has been a spark plug for the team and manages to not consistently turn the puck over, which makes him a spark plug that is actually valuable in the NHL. Meanwhile, Rust has shown plenty of offensive flash already and has done wonderful job with the transition game in the neutral zone. The never-ending injuries may be a long-term blessing when the playoffs arrive since the Penguins are getting a true look at what they have in the organization before it’s time to make some moves.

Harrington will be a wily veteran by the end of the year at this rate. (Daniel Kubus/Getty Images)

Harrington will be a wily veteran by the end of the year at this rate. (Daniel Kubus/Getty Images)

More Mumps and Injuries – Beau Bennett (injured) and Olli Maatta (injured) tested positive for the mumps. Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin both have undisclosed injuries and have been placed on the IR. Chris Kunitz will return against the Panthers at least. Derick Pouliot and Tom Chorney have been recalled from WBS. Craig Adams will finally miss a game due to injury. Rob Scuderi is your new consecutive games-played leader at 73. Yikes.

Next Game: 12/20 vs Florida, 7pm

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